On Tuesday, HC Mike Tomlin spoke to the media in his weekly press conference where he talked about the team’s win this past weekend on Christmas Eve at home against the Las Vegas Raiders and previewed the team’s upcoming Week 17 matchup on the road against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football.
When Tomlin was asked about playing the Ravens back in Week 14 and if the team used that tape as a turning point regarding their run defense, Tomlin responded that it was less of turning point and more so a blemish on what has been a strong second half of the season for the defense.
“I don’t know if that was a fork in the road as you will for our run defense,” Tomlin said to the media Tuesday on video from the team’s YouTube channel. “More than anything, I thought we had a bad day. I think that our run defense has been really solid over the second half of the year. It wasn’t reflected in our play that day. There’s nothing that we can do about that. That tape is in the can. We’re preparing for this tape that we’re going to put out on Sunday night.”
The Steelers’ run defense was gashed on the ground against the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, surrendering 215 yards on 45 attempts which included J.K. Dobbins going for 120 yards and a TD in his first game back after coming off IR just a day before after having a knee injury affect him the entire season to that point. Even with QB Lamar Jackson missing the game and backup Tyler Huntley leaving the game with a concussion, the Steelers were helpless at stopping a running game that they knew was coming right at them over and over again.
However, since that “burn the tape” game where Pittsburgh got embarrassed, the run defense has been suffocating the last two weeks, shutting down a potent Panthers rushing attack that managed only 21 yards against the Steelers after going for 223 yards the week before and a whopping 320 yards on the ground the following week. Same goes for the Las Vegas Raiders and the league’s leading rusher Josh Jacobs who had his worst YPC average (2.9) on the year after totaling 44 yards on 15 carries.
Outside of the Ravens game and the Falcons game where Atlanta accumulated 146 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh, the run defense has been suffocating in the second half of the season after the bye, holding the Saints, Bengals, Panthers, and Raiders to under 70 rushing yards for the game in each contest. However, the Ravens have always been able to pick up yards on the ground against Pittsburgh, regardless of who is at QB. We will see just how much Pittsburgh’s run defense has improved in recent weeks as they face their arch-rival on Sunday night with a chance at the postseason on the line for the Steelers.